I recently finished reading Christopher Hitchens’ latest book God is Not Great and afterwards felt the impulse to jump on YouTube and watch a few videos of Hitchens and Richard Dawkins verbally sparring with various theists (mostly from the Fox News Channel, oddly enough). Interestingly, during almost every one of these exchanges, the theistic commentator would fall back on what Hitchens refers to in his book as the “last ditch case against secularism”, this being the tired old argument that the worst atrocities in history were committed by atheists. Typically we hear Hitler’s name thrown about (though his own writings seem betray at least some religious convictions), as well as Pol Pot, Mao Ze Dong, and Stalin, etc.
The reason that religion is facing rather more than the typical scrutiny lately is precisely the same reason that, for example, James Randi works so hard to expose the frauds of Sylvia Browne: Right now religion is the biggest dog in the yard. The metaphorical battle to stop fraudulent mediums is not best fought by haranguing the fortune teller on the corner but by revealing the bunglings and squawking failures of the industry’s flagship personality. Likewise, the conflict of rationalism and science against irrationalism is not going to be won (merely) by explaining why this week’s perpetual motion machine doesn’t work or why Immanuel Velikovksy had his head up his ass. Right now the most powerful irrational force on earth, the one making the broadest claims about its own authority and the one shrieking with the loudest voice that its rightful place in the world is being denied, is religion.